Chevrolet celebrates a century of American cars

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A 1929 Chevrolet

A 1929 Chevrolet, featuring the "cast iron wonder" engine. Image: thp5555/Flickr/CC BY

Today, Nov. 3, Chevrolet is celebrating its 100th birthday. A division of GM, Chevrolet is the top-selling auto brand of all time. It has sold more than 204 million cars and trucks in the last century.

Founding fathers

The Chevrolet Motor Car Company was founded Nov. 3, 1911, by William C. Durant, who partnered with the famous automotive engineer and race car driver, Louis Chevrolet. Durant hoped to capitalize on Chevrolet’s name to rival Henry Ford in the neophyte automobile industry. The company was headquartered in Detroit, Mich. Louis Chevrolet left the company in 1915 because of design disagreements, but the company  is the reason his name is still remembered today.

Competing by listening to buyers

Henry Ford was famously quoted as saying his customers could have a car in any color they wanted, as long as that color was black. From the start, Chevrolet set out to compete with the industry leader by giving the public what it wanted.

The company’s first car was Series C Classic Six, which had a six-cylinder engine at a time when most cars had only four. While admired by the general public, its $2,150 price tag put it out of reach of most buyers. So the company responded with the Little, an affordable and reliable four-cylinder model that most pre-depression American families could afford.

The GM family

By 1917 the Chevrolet company was so successful that Durant was able to purchase controlling interest in the company he founded and was ousted from a few years earlier, General Motors. Since that time, Chevrolet has existed as a separate division of GM.

In 1925 Chevrolet outsold Ford for the first time. And in 1929 it introduced the “Cast Iron Wonder” engine — so-called because of its cast iron pistons — which allowed the company to drop its prices even lower. It became the first year the company sold more than 1 million cars.

An American tradition

Since that time, the Chevrolet has become an iconic fixture in the American experience. John Heitmann, an automotive history professor at the University of Dayton, said:

“The American car from the mid-1930s to the end of the ’60s was a Chevrolet. It was the car of the aspiring American lower and middle classes for a long period.”

A history of affordable reliability

The popularity of the Chevrolet continued to rise. By 1963, one of every 10 cars sold in the U.S. was a Chevy. Today, the company remains an industry leader, always eager to serve its customers with innovation, reliability and competitive prices.

Happy birthday

As if to reaffirm its position in the industry for its centennial, the company announced that it sold its 1 millionth Chevy Cruz earlier this week. Launched in 2009, The Cruz has become the fourth largest selling car globally.

Chris Perry, vice president of global Chevrolet marketing and strategy, said:

“I can’t think of a better birthday present.”


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